Bishop Russell's All Saints Sermon
REFLECTION ON MATTHEW 5:1-12
THE RIGHT REVEREND RUSSELL KENDRICK 11/1/2020
At the age of nine, Carlo Acutis began studying computer science textbooks and taught himself computer programming and graphic design. As a teenager he created a website that categorized miracles from all over the world and throughout history. Carlo died from leukemia in 2006, at the age of 16.
On October 10 of this year, Carlo was beatified by Pope Francis, and according to a NY Times article with that recognition comes the title of blessed. Part of gaining such a title involves Carlo having a verifiable miracle attributed to him. If a second miracle is verified, Carlo will most likely be named a saint, the first millennial to attain such an honor. Carlo is already being hailed in some Catholic circles as the patron saint of the internet.
There is much to the process of being beatified and attaining the title of blessed but from what I’ve read, one of the key measures is performing a miracle.
So here is my question. Given what I’ve just described and the story I’ve shared, what is the miracle that occurs on the day when Jesus calls the company of people in today’s Gospel? Blessed. He is in a sense beatifying them. We even refer to these verses as the beatitudes.
Let's recall the context. When Jesus sits down on the mountain he has already gained quite a reputation including performing a number of miracles. People are taking notice and they are showing up for his rallies so to speak. And today, at least in the way Matthew recalls it, Jesus preaches his inaugural address that we know as the Sermon on the Mount. It is Jesus’ first sermon and his longest. Jesus preaches for three chapters and yet these first 12 verses set the tone and theme of all that follows.
Blessed are you. Jesus beatifies them. But at first glance, where is the verifiable miracle? No one is cured of leprosy; no one gains their sight; no one has raised anyone from the dead. No one performs a certifiable miracle. So why all the fuss?
I have read this Gospel more times than I can remember, and it never gets old. And this year, given all that is going on around us, it is more alive than before. That if we lean a bit more into the story, here are miracles at work.
Jesus is lifting up humanity and the very miracle that life itself can hold. Oh yes, there are miracles going on, and Jesus calls them out. Blessed are you who work for peace in a world consumed by war; blessed are you who strive to give mercy in a culture raging for revenge; blessed are you who stand up for what is right; blessed are you who try your best to love your neighbor.
And Jesus also seems to know what happens when you try to perform such miracles and live this way in the world, and he blesses that too. Blessed are those who are shattered and ostracized; blessed are those who are worn out; blessed are those who weep; blessed are you who follow this way and truth and life and are ridiculed for doing so.
Jesus is calling forth power, but not so much the power to perform miracles that defy human logic or exceed human capability. Jesus is calling forth the power given to each of us and all of us. It is the power given to us in the God-given gift of our very humanity.
Don’t get me wrong, I am glad we have heroes that bear the title of saint, people who have performed the kind of miracles that defy our limits and logic. But let’s not dismiss our own lives too quickly from bearing the title of saint, and the idea that our lives hold within them the potential and power to be living loving miracles - miracles of compassion, mercy, kindness, hope, healing.
I was working on this sermon and I stumbled on this image I want to share with you. The more I stared at it, the more it became more than just a sketch. It became an icon, an icon of sainthood in the year of our Lord 2020.
It is a drawing by the anonymous street artist known simply as Banksy. It was delivered to a hospital in South Hampton England with a note: “Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if its only black and white.”
It is titled “The Game Changer.” It shows a child playing with a doll dressed in nurse’s uniform while the super-heroes Batman and Spiderman are discarded in a basket. The nurse’s outstretched arms mimic those of Superman. Like most superheroes, she too wears a mask. The only color on the canvas is a symbol emblazoned on the nurse’s chest, a red cross.
Here then is an icon for sainthood in 2020, a child who lifts up the most unlikely super heroes, the miracle workers in our midst who give their humanity to all humanity. Those real deal essential workers---nurses, doctors, teachers, first responders, truck drivers, custodians, therapists---those who serve in the shadows and on the edges, the saints of God who perform miracles of mercy, perseverance, peace making, healing. The saints who know deeply the life of sacrifice---the fear of it, the grief, the weariness---but also know the hope and joy of living such a life.
Once upon a time Jesus lifted up the most unlikely people and blessed them. These were people who were hungering for the world to be set right, but who were told they had no power to say so or do anything about it. Jesus is able to see something more in them than suffering and sin. And what he sees, he calls forth. You are blessed; you are loved. Opening their eyes to the grace and goodness of God within them, freeing them, inspiring them, empowering them.
This is not just a sermon for the mount, it is a sermon for the hospitals and schools. It is a sermon for our homes and neighborhoods. It is a sermon for you: you, who are striving for peace with someone in your life, you are blessed. You, who weep and care for the broken, neglected and lonely, you are blessed. You, who sit by the dying at night, you are blessed. You, who will sing of God when no one else will sing, you are blessed. You, who know in your heart that the ways of this world are not right and hunger for more and try to do something about it, you are blessed.
Let us dare to place ourselves into this crowd of saints for we too have a part in this company. We too are blessed. We too are given power, the power that bears forth the very image of God. It is emblazoned on our hearts and marked on our foreheads. It is the cross
Let us go forth to be a saint too. Let's be a part of the kind of sainthood to which Jesus calls us. Let's be about the miracles that Jesus calls forth in us, lifting up the lowly, blessing the dying, offering mercy, holding fast to what is good. And know that when you do, you are performing miracles that our world desperately needs.